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Plans halted to turn old church into snake breeding facility

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DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. - A plan to turn an old church into a home for snakes has residents in northern Delaware County fired up. They said they don't want reptiles right in their backyards!

Those living in rural Gaston said they got wind of the plan about a month ago, and they want the proposed snake farm stopped. It seems they may get their way.

"I let people know around here as much as I could," said Jimmie Hamm.

It's a quiet part of Delaware County, but the chatter along North County Road 525 West has grown in recent weeks. The talk's among neighbors like Jimmie Hamm, about a former house of God, Open Gate Ministries, and the wild plans for the property.

"We don't need people raising snakes here. It could just wreck havoc," said Hamm.

"I'm not a snake lover," said Joyce Niccum, who lives nearby.

Jeff Ronne and his wife Cindy live in Minnesota. They want to move their home and business called Boaphile Enterprises to the old church and turn one part of the building into a residence, the other into a place for breeding amphibians and reptiles, like boa constrictors.

"I was shocked and irritated," said Karla Hanger, who lives a few doors down.

People quickly found out about the serpents and sounded off to a zoning variance filed by the family in early June, sending dozens of emails to the Delaware-Muncie Metropolitan Plan Commission office.

"The threat of these reptiles being housed and possibly accidentally released near our homes is a very real threat," said Shannon Farber, in an email comment to the DMMPC.

"I can almost see the add in the Star Press, Snakes in the sanctuary sale. Lord save us all," said Caroll Nahre, in another email.

"There is no way for any company to guarantee that none of these snakes would escape and be a danger to the children and people of our community," said Michael Bush, Superintendent of nearby Wes-Del Community Schools.

Jimmie Hamm said he never dreamed he'd live next to a snake breeder. His grandfather gave the land to the church, and he said the thought of slithery neighbors is scary.

"It's always been sentimental to the family and to think they'd close this up and raise snakes and reptiles in here, it's just awful to think about," he said.

Jeff Ronne told FOX59 Thursday night by email that the plans are being withdrawn, but he would not return our calls. A Muncie attorney working on Ronne's behalf told FOX59 earlier on Thursday in light of all the opposition, they chose not to pursue the project.